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Cook v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

July 22, 2015

DONNA COOK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

For DONNA COOK, Plaintiff: Domiento Cornelius Hill, LAW OFFICES OF DOMIENTO C.R. HILL, Upper Marlboro, MD.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Tasha Monique Hardy, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC.

Page 99

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALAN KAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

The parties consented to this case being reassigned to the undersigned for all purposes and trial pursuant to Local Civil Rule 73.1(a). (Meet and Confer [7] at 2; Referral to Magistrate Judge [10]). Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (" Motion" ) [11] and Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of the Motion for Summary Judgment (" Memorandum" ) [11-1]; Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support Thereof [14] and Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [13] (collectively, " Cross Motion" ); Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment [15] and Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment [16] (collectively, " Pls.' Reply" ); and Defendant's Reply in Support of its Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (" Def.'s Reply" ) [17]. Plaintiffs Donna Cook and her minor child, A.C., (" Plaintiffs" ) request from Defendant District of Columbia (" Defendant" ) a total of $36,325.00 in attorney's fees and costs

Page 100

incurred pursuing an administrative proceeding brought under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act and Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (collectively, the " IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (Memorandum at 8). Defendant contests certain charges for which Plaintiffs request reimbursement. (Cross Motion at 5-9). Upon consideration of Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant's Cross Motion, Plaintiffs' Reply and Defendant's Reply, and for the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned grants in part and denies in part Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [11] and grants in part and denies in part Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment [14].

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are Donna Cook (" Ms. Cook" ), parent, and A.C., a minor student with disabilities who requires special education services pursuant to the IDEA. (Memorandum at 1). The IDEA guarantees all children with disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education (" FAPE" ), 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A), and in general, FAPE " is available to all children with disabilities residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). Defendant District of Columbia is a municipal corporation that operates the District of Columbia Public Schools system (" DCPS" ). (Complaint against District of Columbia (" Compl." ) ¶ 9). Pursuant to the IDEA, Defendant receives federal funds to ensure access to a FAPE, and it is obliged to comply with applicable federal regulations and statutes including the IDEA. See 20 U.S.C. § 1411. Pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), a court may award reasonable attorney's fees to a parent of a child with a disability who prevails in an IDEA proceeding.

A.C. is a female student who has been eligible for Special Education and related services under the IDEA since 2011. (Hearing Officer Determination (" HOD" ) [11-4] at 4, 10). She has undergone a series of assessments in the past few years, the most recent of which include a functional behavioral assessment on March 18, 2012, a comprehensive psychological evaluation on March 14 and 20, 2012, an occupational therapy evaluation on June 11, 2012, and a speech and language evaluation on July 11, 2012. (HOD at 4). At the request of A.C.'s teachers and educational advocate, a multidisciplinary team (" MDT" ) meeting was held on October 24, 2013. ( Id. ) At the meeting, A.C.'s " special education teacher informed the team that the student's behavior had been out of control and very disruptive in the school year...so disruptive that it has impeded her progress and the progress of others." (HOD at 10-11). Due to A.C.'s behavioral decline, coupled with the fact that she was receiving all D's and F's in her classes, the MDT team scheduled a psychiatric evaluation, which yielded diagnoses of a mood disorder and ADHD, as well as a recommendation that A.C. be ruled out for psychosis. (HOD at 5, 11). In light of this, Ms. Cook requested that A.C. be " comprehensively reevaluated with a comprehensive psychological assessment, a speech and language assessment, an occupational therapy assessment, and a functional behavioral assessment." (HOD at 5). Despite this request, however, during A.C.'s next MDT meeting on March 12, 2014, DCPS admitted that " none of the testing had begun despite the student's continuing academic and behavioral decline." (HOD at 6).

On March 27, 2014, Ms. Cook filed a Due Process Complaint (" DPC" ) on behalf of A.C. (HOD at 1). Plaintiffs alleged that DCPS denied the student a FAPE by failing to complete the requested evaluations

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on A.C. in a timely fashion. (HOD at 3; Memorandum at 1). As relief, Plaintiffs sought an order for DCPS to (1) fund independent assessments consisting of a comprehensive psychological assessment, functional behavioral assessment, a speech and language assessment, and Occupational Therapy; (2) convene a MDT meeting within ten days of the receipt of the last assessment to review the results and revise A.C.'s IEP accordingly; (3) discuss and determine A.C.'s placement after review of the IEP; (4) compensatory education. (HOD at 3-4). Finally, Plaintiffs requested from the Hearing Officer a finding that " DPCS denied the student a FAPE." (HOD at 3).

The Due Process Hearing (" DPH" ) was held on May 29, 2014. (HOD at 2). The sole issue presented for relief at the DPH was whether " DCPS denied Student a [FAPE] by failing to timely complete the Student's parental requested reevaluation of student given on January 29, 2014." (HOD at 3). The revised[1] HOD was released on June 12, 2014, in which the Hearing Officer found that DCPS did indeed deny A.C. a FAPE. (HOD at 12). As appropriate relief, the Hearing Officer ordered DCPS to (1) fund the comprehensive psychological assessment, the functional behavioral assessment, the speech and language assessment, and Occupational Therapy that her parent requested; (2) convene an MDT meeting within ten business days of receiving the results of the last assessment and develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (" BIP" ) for A.C., review and revise A.C.'s IEP in light of her academic, social, emotional, and behavioral progress, and determine her appropriate educational placement; and (3) provide 240 hours of compensatory education in the form of academic tutoring beginning July 1, 2014 through October 31, 2014. (HOD at 13).

On January 30, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in this Court seeking a judgment declaring that she was the prevailing party in the IDEA administrative proceeding and she was entitled to recover attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $36,325.00. (Compl. ¶ 2, 19). Domiento C.R. Hill (" Mr. Hill" ) represented Plaintiffs prior to and during the administrative process, at the administrative hearing, and after the HOD was issued. (Memorandum at 5; Attorney Fee Worksheet). Mr. Hill documented 107.4 hours of attorney time, billed at $335.00 and $345.00 per hour (three-quarters of the Laffey matrix rate), totaling $36,325.00. (Memorandum at 7; Attorney Fee Worksheet). The undersigned must determine whether and to what extent Plaintiff is entitled to reimbursement of fees.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Summary Judgment on an IDEA Claim

A party moving for summary judgment on legal fees must demonstrate (1) prevailing party status; and (2) the reasonableness of the fees requested in terms of hours spent and hourly rate.[2]See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3); see also Alegria v. D.C., 391 F.3d 262, 265-66, 269, 364 U.S. App.D.C. 13 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (affirming denial of attorney's fees because moving party ...


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